Certifications and Licenses for Food Producers

Food growers and producers must negotiate a variety of mandatory and voluntary certifications, audits and licenses in their quest to get products into the market.  Sunrise County Economic Council provides training and technical support which helps food producers navigate these guidelines and requirements.

SCEC may be able to assist farmers and food processors with low interest loans to meet these requirements through its Sunrise Agriculture Microloan fund.

Fruits and Vegetables:

Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) & Good Handling Practices (GHP):

GAP and GHP are audits that verify fruits and vegetables are produced, packed, handled, and stored as safely as possible to minimize risks of microbial food safety hazards.

Increasingly, large grocery chains, and institutions require their producers to meet GAP and GHP standards and be GAP certified by a USDA audit.

The cost of these annual audits is born by the farmer although some wholesalers and retailers (http://www.mainebiz.biz/article/20150223/CURRENTEDITION/302189993/chelsea-wagner:-marketing-hannaford%5C’s-buy-local-program) do reimburse a portion of the cost.

GAP Food Safety Standards can be found here:

The GAP and GHP Audit User’s Guide (http://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/GAP-GHP-Audit-Users-Guide.pdf)  includes an audit request form.

The “Beginning Farmer’s Guide to a GAP Audit,(http://www.hobbyfarms.com/farm-marketing-and-management/gap-audit-guide.aspx) is an excellent resource for familiarizing oneself with the GAP certification process.

Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP):

HACCP plans are a risk management process that documents how food and ingredients are processed so that risks in obtaining, handling, manufacturing, and (if needed) recalling of food can be at the highest standard. HACCP plans involve not just how food is handled and treated, but also provide consistent and detailed records of its passage through the food system. HACCP information, course and draft plans can be found at the Maine State Division of Environmental Health (http://www.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/environmental-health/el/) website. The USDA offers a Guidebook for the Preparation of HACCP Plans (http://www.haccpalliance.org/sub/haccpmodels/guidebook.pdf. )


There is a three-tiered inspection system in place in Maine regarding meat processing.

Custom and Retail Exempt Slaughtering:

There are two primary processor exemptions to state and federal meat processing rules: Custom and Retail.

Custom exemption, for both animal slaughter and meat processing, relieves processors from the requirements of state and federal inspection. There are distinct requirements under this exemption:

  • Custom slaughter must only be for the personal use of the owner of the animal;
  • The resulting product must be marked “Not for Sale”;
  • The operator must maintain accurate production and business records; and
  • The animal and/or product must be prepared or processed in a sanitary manner.

Custom slaughter must only be for the personal use of the owner of the animal.
  However, more than one person can own an animal, and whole or quarter animals can be sold as long as they are purchased before slaughter.

Retail Exempt Slaughtered meat is distinguished from personal household consumption and purchasing for resell. The USDA has limitations on the “normal retail quantity” a customer can purchase and a processor can provide. The limitations per meat animal species are listed as follows:

A retail-exempt processor can sell products to food service (caterers, hotels, and restaurants), provided that:

Maine State Inspected Meat:

The Maine Red Meat and Poultry Inspection Program regulates wholesomeness and quality as well as ensures the consumer a safe product. The program is equal or better than the current USDA Inspection System.  Unlike custom exempt meat processing, Maine State inspected meat may be resold commercially, but must be sold within the state.  If you are interested in state inspection, or have any questions, please contact: Henrietta Beaufait at (207) 287-7512: or email: henrietta.beaufait@maine.gov

USDA Inspected Meat:

USDA Inspected meat is inspected to the same level as Maine State Inspections, however it can be sold outside of the state and internationally. For more information read the USDA’s Slaughter Inspection 101 (http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/production-and-inspection/slaughter-inspection-101/slaughter-inspection-101).


The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry run the Dairy Inspection Program. It is responsible for inspecting processors and farms to ensure the safe supply of milk for the public.

Dairy Inspectors conduct farm and dairy plant inspections in compliance with the Interstate Milk Shippers Program(IMS). They visit dairy farms semiannually for sanitary inspections of milking equipment and facilities.

The Maine Milk Quality Laboratory analyzes dairy products, tests producers’ water samples and certifies commercial and industry milk laboratories involved in the IMS Program. Licenses are issued for frozen dessert products and milk and cheese processors.

To familiarize yourself with the rules and laws regarding dairy foods in Maine, visit http://www.maine.gov/dacf/qar/inspection_programs/dairy_inspection.shtml.

Fermented Products:

Fermented food products must comply with both food safety and alcohol regulations.  Maine state law defines and regulates spirits, wine, malt liquor, hard cider, or any substance containing liquor, intended for human consumption, which contains more than 1/2 of 1% of alcohol by volume. Those seeking to produce for sale less than 50,000 gallons of liquor need to complete a small brewery (http://www.maine.gov/dafs/bablo/docs/06SmBreweryAp.pdf), or farm winery (http://www.maine.gov/dafs/bablo/docs/06FarmWineryAp.pdf) application.

Any liquor which is produced for commercial purposes must be permitted by the Federal Alcohol, Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (http://www.ttb.gov/ponl/permits-online.shtml).  It can take up to 75 days for a permit to be approved. No brewing may commence before approval is given. Brewers must also have bond coverage before beginning the business of brewing. You may obtain information on surety companies from the following web site: https://www.fiscal.treasury.gov/fsreports/ref/suretyBnd/c570_a-z.htm


All cider offered for sale must be heat treated, treated by ultraviolet light or pressed under a state-approved HACCP plan unless the cider bears a warning “WARNING: This product has not been pasteurized. It may contain harmful bacteria that can cause serious illness in children, the elderly and persons with weakened immune systems.” Maine has food laws and rules that particularly concern apple juice and cider (http://www.maine.gov/dacf/qar/laws_and_rules/food_laws_rules.shtml). “Hard cider” is liquor when contains 1/2 of 1% alcohol and therefor falls under state and federal liquor laws.


A fermented tea, kambucha generally exceeds the 1/2 of 1% alcohol threshold, and is considered liquor under state and federal law. Its production needs to be under a brewery or wine license. Alternately, it can be pasteurized or diluted to lower its alcohol content.

Fermented Foods:

Fermented meats, vegetables, and dairy products such as jerky, sauerkraut, yogurt and pickles all require a HACCP plan and at least a Home Food Processor License depending on their levels of acidity and protein contents.

Baked Goods, Candies, Jams and Pickles: A Home Food Processor License (http://www.maine.gov/dacf/qar/permits_and_licenses/index.shtml) covers producers of baked goods, candies, jams, and pickles which do not require refrigeration. Generally, this requires you to have your well water tested, sewage system vetted and meet basic food handling safety rules and regulations (http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/safe-food-handling/basics-for-handling-food-safely).

Most baked goods, fruit-based jams/jellies, and candies/confections do not need to be sent to the University of Maine for food testing.  Shelf stable foods such as acidified canned foods (pickles, salsas, marinades, dressings), dessert sauces (caramel/chocolate sauces), and raw foods with minimal processing are a few examples. An excellent article about what is needed to create a Licensed Home Food Processor Kitchen can be found at: http://www.mofga.org/Publications/MaineOrganicFarmerGardener/Summer2008/Licensing/tabid/948/Default.aspx

Potentially hazardous foods which contain protein, or need to be refrigerated (such as cream filled cakes or jerked meat) need to be produced under a Commercial Food Processor’s License (http://www.maine.gov/dacf/qar/permits_and_licenses/index.shtml).

Organic Designation:

The Maine Organic Farmer’s and Gardener’s Association (MOFGA) is the primary provider of organic certification services to farmers and food producers in the State of Maine. MOFGA (http://www.mofgacertification.org/?page_id=2740)  provides a clear and detailed description of the pathway to organic certification.

Significant costs surround organic certifications; however, many can be off set with federal government reimbursements. A detailed discussion of the costs associated with MOFGA certification can be found here.

Ethical Standards and Certifications:

There are a number of certifications designed to offer ethical  and religious assurances regarding the treatment of workers, the environment, and animals.

Fair Trade;

Fair Trade USA’s standards assess food products in terms of employee empowerment, economic development, social development and environmental stewardship. Their standards and guidelines can be found at (http://fairtradeusa.org/certification/standards/download-center).

Sustainably Grown Certification:

This certification reinforces the producer’s efforts to minimize environmental impacts, provide a safe and healthy work environment, and protect product integrity. These include:

  • Implementing best practices for environmental, social and quality performance
  • Stimulating continuous improvement and innovation in agriculture
  • Enhancing agro-ecosystem structure and functioning
  • Increasing energy efficiency of agricultural systems
  • Reducing green house gas emissions from agricultural operations
  • Supporting bioregional production and consumption of agricultural products
  • Optimizing land use for the production of food, fiber and biofuel crops
  • Raising public awareness and stimulate consumer purchases that reinforce adoption of sustainable agriculture practices

Information regarding their certification process can be found at https://www.scsglobalservices.com/sustainably-grown-certification.

Non-GMO Verification:

The Non-GMO Project’s Product Verification Program is a process-based and product-based program designed to assess compliance with the Non-GMO Project Standard (http://www.nongmoproject.org/product-verification/non-gmo-project-standard/). The core requirements are traceability, segregation, and testing of high-risk ingredients at critical control points.  The verification process is handled by independent, third-party technical administrators who determine if a product complies with their Standard. More information can be found at  http://www.nongmoproject.org/product-verification/.

Certified Humane Raised and Handled:

Humane Farm Animal Care is the  non-profit certification organization which evaluates the humane raising and handling of farm animals in food production from birth through slaughter. The goal of the program is to improve the lives of farm animals by driving consumer demand for kinder and more responsible farm animal practices. Standards for most farm animals can be found at (http://certifiedhumane.org/how-we-work/our-standards/).

Kosher Certification:

“Kosher” refers to a set of biblical laws  pertaining to food preparation, cleanliness, purity, quality and type.  To be certified Kosher, all ingredients in every product—and the process of preparing the product—must be certified for kosher-compliance. Orthodox Union (OU) Kosher is the leading kosher compliance company.  Information regarding their certification process can be found at https://oukosher.org/.

Halal Certification:

Halal refers to lawful or permitted food products, meat products, cosmetics, personal care products, pharmaceuticals, food ingredients, and food contact materials under Islamic law.  The Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America (IFANCA) (http://www.ifanca.org/Pages/HalalApplication.aspx) provides a certification process for halal designation in the United States.